An older generation of Ottoman connoisseurs has found success as the brand ambassadors of the Turkish kitchen in Kempinski on the Nile, commends Gamal Nkrumah
Kisir might be therapeutic but what about a nourishing and sustaining dish for those fasting in Ramadan? On the edge of Cairo's riverside the pertinent question remains of living interest to connoisseurs of Ottoman cuisine. Those who opt for Kisir prefer cleave to a health-conscious Iftar even in the ostentatious Osmanly breaking of the fastidious Ramadan fast.
Kisir is the Turkish version of the Levantine tabouleh. It is a refreshing side dish of parboiled bulgur durum wheat garnished with finely chopped parsley, dollops of tomato paste, drenched in pomegranate juice and with more than a sprinkling of coarsely chopped garlic and onion. And I dare say, the Turkish kisir contends favourably with its Lebanese rival tabouleh.
The Kempinski has always been a byword for a certain kind of deluxe atmospherics, the flashy kind but in Ramadan don't expect a Turkish belly dancer with champagne bucket or a tray of Islim kebab on her head for that matter. And especially so now that everything Turkish has come roaring back into fashion. The Kempinksi has typically been a social-climbing meeting place.
The Osmanly is a fitting premise for Ottoman imperial cuisine. My companion and I order a restrained glass of sparkling mineral water, an act entirely at odds with the inviting six kinds of colourful Ramadan fresh fruit juices on offer. Classical Ottoman cuisine is a powerfully sustained metaphysical adventure as much as it is a culmination of millennia of culinary delights.
Comestibles from the imperial kitchens ooze over the VIP lounges of the Kempinski overlooking the glistening Nile in mouthwatering whiffs of refreshing Ramadan delicacies. Eggplant salads, chickpea saturated humus, delectable mint yoghurt, the creamy smoothness of which is indescribably appetising. The pilaf duos are divine -- the saffron basmati rice pilaf and the equally resplendent bulgar pilaf dressed mellow and mellifluous in beiges and browns.
The honeyed prawn tagine and the flaky crystal white grilled sea bass compliment each other if you have room enough for devouring such quantities of the denizens of the deep. I for one am quite happy to do with the mezzeh Iftar condiments.
The braised beef tenderloin literally melts in your mouth and the mix dolma is coarsely chopped but full of meaty flavours. Mind you, the exquisite edibles do not come cheap. The Kempinski, after all, always straddled the world of the posh and plush.
The Osmanly has yet another engaging pay-off -- the chance to cosy up to the Cairene social elite. There may not be any Ottoman sultans at The Osmanly, but the clientele still have aspirations. You can spot the odd ex-royal sipping pink champagne even in Ramadan but the drinker in question has to be a foreign passport holder.
The vine leaves are perhaps the best you'll taste in town. And, Turkish coffee is what typical Osmanly clientele reaches out for when satisfied with the feat of breaking the fast. The answer to the dearth of Turkish restaurants in Cairo is not to ram through trends by diktat but to encourage the more intrepid Egyptian entrepreneurs to set up more Osmanly eateries in town. Local obstacles to Turkish delights can be lifted only with local consent.
The Osmanly Restaurant
Kempinski Nile, Garden City
12 Ahmed Ragheb Street, off Corniche Al-Nil
Tel: 2798 0000
Iftar for two: LE750